There are many things one can do online, without any major subscription to genealogical databases, to research family history. I usually start with available canadian and american census to identify the head of the family then move my way down to family members. While I was starting to research my mother’s family line, Dulac, I encountered several problems.
- The family surname Dulac is also identified in earlier and contemporary records of the 19th century as Dulack, Aubuchon, Dulas, Aubuchon dit Dulac, etc…. you get my drift.
- Often male children will wear the same first name as their father, same thing for female children and their mother’s name. So imagine trying to figure out your ancestor’s residence in 1891 when there are three (or more) individuals named : Joseph Louis Philippe or Marie Louise. Our ancestors didn’t care much for the startling diversity of first names given to children nowadays.
- Not all records are available online (that is a known fact) so researching from abroad, my options were limited.
So, onwards to this particular individual : Charles Louis Philippe Dulac, my great-uncle (on my mother’s side), born in 1897, probably deceased by the 1960′s. What made me tick and give particular attention to him? Well, I was always told that my family (on both sides) weren’t particularly attached to military service, to my knowledge none of my immediate ancestors or family members were part of the canadian military forces. That didn’t stop me from using all the tools I could get my hands on to know more about my family in the 19th century. Experienced and amateur genealogists have been using the Library and Archives Canada website for years now as it makes freely available thousands of resources (digitized or not) online. I had a look at the military section, and proceeded to search for “Dulac” in the Soldiers of the First World War database :
I had already identified this individual as a brother to my grand-father Lucien in the 1911 Canadian census. It turns out that he was :
- A military by choice, he enlisted previously to his 1917 military service in the 5th Royal Highlanders.
- A munition worker and inspector.
- Enlisted in the 79th Battery C.E.F.
I had to do a lot of digging to find out more about the 79th Field Battery, for somebody who is not a military historian, it can be daunting. Again, thanks to Library and Archives Canada I was able to identify two online resources for military genealogy (and history). The Canadian Great War Project made it possible for me to enter my great-uncle’s military service in the database. The C.E.F. Study Group forum is another excellent resource for anybody who are researching canadian family members part of the military. I finally had an answer after several weeks by email from the Directorate of History and Heritage of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The 79th Depot Battery appears to have been established early in the First World War to organize artillery reinforcements from the Montreal area for service overseas. As such, it would not have left Canada. As an artillery unit it was part of the “Royal Canadian Artillery” and its members would have worn the artillery cap badge. I regret that I cannot locate any photos of this unit.
There goes my idea that Louis-Philippe had crossed the Atlantic. I cross-checked this information with the Lovell’s Montreal directories for 1917-1918. There he was, a shell-maker, at the same adress he indicated on his enlistement attestation.
So far so good. After the First World War ended, I expected to find my great-uncle in Montreal directories still, like his father Louis-Philippe a carpenter at the time, or maybe find him married searching the records of the Institut Drouin (the most important digitized french-canadian database of birth, mariages and deaths). Well, he disappeared and I couldn’t find him in Canada after 1918. So there I was, wishing for a 1921 Canadian census to magically appear (before 2013) or that the Canadian Border Crossings* database was searchable by surname. Nevertheless, I did not give up and backtracked across the family’s history and remembered that they had spent some time in Waterbury, Connecticut from 1898 to 1908. I effectively also found that my great-uncle’s father Louis Philippe had a brother who emigrated to Waterbury also, Maxime Arthur Dulac, and established himself there with his family. So, I assumed for a moment, that my great-uncle had moved back to the U.S. for work and was living in the same geographical area.
I started by checking the Connecticut city directories, Vermont and Maine. Not all of them have been digitized and not all of them are available for free. So I used several other methods; full text searches in search engines, conducting text searches on Archive.org and FamilySearch.org. I was adamant that he had to be somewhere in the area! Finally, I was able to find him in the 1923-1924 Waltham, Massachusetts city directory with a brother probably.
By genealogical standards, this may not have been the individual I was looking for, like I stated before the names and surnames used by our ancestors a century ago were pretty much the same. But I had a hunch so I pursued this route, researching city directories in Montreal at the same time to make sure my dear great-uncle didn’t reappear on the other side of the border, thus eliminating that avenue of research. I did a little bit of checking on his occupation, it turns out that “W W & Co” is the Waltham Watch Company, a important american watchmaker from 1850 to 1957.
There I was again, hoping for an elusive record of his employement there. I did find the Waltham Watch Company archives, lovingly preserved by the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School, although there are no images or search capabilities (yet). I was still not fazed and since Louis-Philippe had obviously not returned to Quebec, I continued my research.
I stated in a previous post that there are transcription errors on records available online, so a search for “Dulac” might not give results. I used all the spelling variations I could think of, searching by first name and date of birth and, Eureka!, I found my great-uncle (spelled “Dulas”) in the 1930 american census living in Highland Park, a small suburb of Detroit, Michigan. Again, how did I know it was him?
- His date of birth was consistent (1898).
- He indicated 1924 as his date of immigration to the U.S. so it was consistent also with his residence in Waltham in 1924.
- His trade is watchmaker in a jewellery store, no surprises there.
- He has another Dulac with him, Wilfred this time, it might be the same brother from 1924 but it might that his first name was given to the census officer differently.
- I also found him in the City directory of Detroit of 1928.
Still conducting parallel searches in Montreal, over the years, I found that his father, Louis-Philippe died in 1930. He came back to live in Montreal with his mother, Marie-Louise Lafontaine, in 1933 according to the Lovell’s Directory. I used a limited subscription to Ancestry.com and found that he got married to Antonia Belanger in 1935. He is described as a watchmaker on his mariage record. After that date, I found him periodically in the Lovell Directory as a watchmaker and jeweller in Montreal until the 1960′s where he diseappeared entirely from it.
Although I managed to stick with my original plan of retracing my great-uncle’s footsteps, there are still many unresolved questions:
- What was a french-canadian boy, of presumably 16 years of age, doing in the Black Watch before 1917?
- Where did Louis-Philippe “diseappear” from 1918 to 1924 before resurfacing in Waltham, Mass.?
- Where/How did he learn his watchmaking trade?
Regarding that last question, I did some checking on Canadian watchmaking factories at the end of the 19th century and found only one relevant : The Arthur Pequegnat Clock Company in Kitchener, Ontario. So, could it be that Louis-Philippe Dulac, my great-uncle, the watchmaker worked for Pequegnat after 1918 before immigrating to the U.S.?
The great thing about genealogical research is that it challenges me, I will have to use every trick of the trade (and probably a few helpful fee-based subscriptions to genealogy databases too), identify online resources, classify them, cross-check information across multiple sources, etc. In a word: modern treasure hunting. Oh, and it’s fun too.
* It is searchable by surname through a fee-based subscription to Ancestry.com, though the transcription and accuracy of information available for individuals makes it quite difficult, I would highly recommend you visit Library and Archives Canada by yourself.